Tuesday, February 08, 2011

thesis defence

The date for my thesis defence has been scheduled. Feb 17th, 10:30 a.m.

I have only 15 minutes to present my thesis – which is 158 pages long. I then have 10 minutes with each of the two professors on my committee to answer their questions. Oddly, in this program the committee emails the questions in advance. So I have the pleasure of knowing that I will be asked such things as:

- What do you think we gain from typologies/efforts to categorize social phenomena? What do we lose/what risks are posed by efforts to categorize?
- You state: “I am not suggesting that [the actors] are ‘evil’ perpetrators’ of violence, but rather that they are social actors responding to, and shaping, their physical, social, economic and political environment.” By excluding concepts like “evil” and “primeval” what do we gain? What is lost if we do exclude them?
- Does your viewpoint have an ideological blind spot?
- How would you categorize complex cases such as Hamas in Gaza City, Islamic Courts Union/Al Shabaab in Mogadishu?

Again, I have 10 minutes to address these and other questions. I am actually expected to do this? Can I talk so fast that they hear only a blur of words and assume that I have presented a satisfactory argument? What would happen if I said, “That is a very good question. If I were writing a doctoral dissertation, I would like to address it. However, I have presented a master’s thesis that is already 50% over-length and thus I do not feel that I have the scope to develop my material in the direction you suggest.”

Oh, and then there is round two – questions for which are not pre-disclosed. But I only have 5 minutes to answer them. Perhaps they will ask how my theory of organized urban violence applies to the recent political unrest in Cairo. That is something appropriate for a 5 minute answer.

Luckily, because my university used to be a seminary where the sacrements could be given anywhere on campus, each room is licensed to serve alcohol. Apparently the college provides a bottle of wine for a post-defence toast. I think I will need it.

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